Building Friendships in Haiti: Reflecting on the Global Missions Commission Pilgrimage

Earlier this month, Bishop Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows and eight members of the Diocese of Indianapolis Global Missions Commission made a pilgrimage to the Episcopal Diocese of Haiti.

During their trip, the pilgrims visited the Université Episcopale d’Haïti and its nursing college, the Eglise Episcopal Seminaries Theologic in Port Au Prince, St. Croix Hospital, and many schools affiliated with the Episcopal Church. The Rev. Julia Whitworth of Trinity, Indianapolis, accompanied the group to explore a partnership between St. Richard’s Episcopal School and an Episcopal school in Haiti.

“It was heartening to meet the people for whom we pray every week and to witness first-hand the impact of real relationships over the years,” said Bishop Jennifer, who was visiting Haiti for the first time. “I hope that we will continue to grow in our partnership not only for the sake of the people of Haiti for but us, here in Indiana.”

Recalling the trip, Bryan Luce of Holy Family, Fishers, wrote, “one thing is clear — there is real need in this country. Nine years after the major earthquake that leveled the cathedrals for both the Catholic and Episcopal Dioceses of Haiti, both are still not rebuilt. Buildings across the country are in need of tear down or rebuilding. You can see the look of struggle on the faces of the people in the streets as one drives from place to place. Trash is piled up along streets and clean water is a genuine safety concern. Each day is a struggle.”

Many participants reported feeling overwhelmed by the real need so evident in Haiti. They also reported a sense of great hope visible in the places they visited.

One such visit was to St. Andres in Mithon, where the diocese built a school and supports a program called Lunches and Lessons. “Once in Mithon, I got to see what our diocese had accomplished in improving the lives of these people,” wrote Madeline Webster of St. David’s, Bean Blossom. “I saw a well that meant that people had access to clean, fresh water. It was cold and refreshing, and literally life-giving. I saw the huge, beautiful school with a Haitian flag flying over it. Students in clean, matching uniforms with hair barrettes that matched. I saw children laughing and playing with one another, drinking from the well when exhausted from playing. I met children the age of children in my family who would not have access to clean water, regular meals, or an education without the work of our diocese. Although the scope of human suffering in Haiti is immense and overwhelming, I was blessed to bear witness to the very real progress made by our relationship with the people in Mithon.”

The itinerary also included a visit to St. Vincent’s Center in Port-au-Prince, which serves children with disabilities. “The center was a modern stone building with high ceilings and a large porch at the back with a beautiful pink bougainvillea to the left of the front door,” wrote Andrew Goldsmid of St. Paul’s, Columbus. “We were welcomed by Father Cole, the spiritual director, who took us on a complete tour of the home and introduced us to many of the children and young adults … some [of the children] had been abandoned, but all were loved by Father Cole, who introduced them each by name.”

Participants also had a chance to worship with the community of Darbonne. “The service filled my very being with love, joy, and hope for this community and the greater church,” wrote Allan Wallace of St. John’s, Speedway. “Then I remembered where I was and what these people deal with on a regular basis, such impoverished conditions and hardships without a sign of relief, I was ever so humbled … In that moment, I saw strength in the love of God and faith in a way that I had never experienced before.”

“Haiti’s people have endured wars, natural disasters, and governments that have failed them on every level, and yet they press forward,” wrote the Rev. John Rumple of St. Andrew’s, Greencastle. “Because of this history, the church in Haiti plays a significant role in supporting community life with regards to health care, education, and food and farming programs in rural areas. Numerically, Haiti is the largest diocese in the Episcopal Church – nearly 90,000 people. What if we helped empower our Episcopal family in Haiti to fulfill their ministry to their neighbors?”

The work of the Diocese of Indianapolis in Haiti “is just a little bit in the broad picture,” wrote the Rev. Jean Denton, a retired priest of the diocese now living in California. “But feeding a child through Lunches and Lessons makes all the difference to that child’s brain and stomach. Irrigating gardens for vegetable consumption or sale gives dignity to men who now have work. Clean water brings women from all around to find community and health. Hope matters.”

Although the travelers have returned, their pilgrimage lives on through lasting connections and continued communication. “Through the magic of social media, I have become fast friends with three young people who attend the Episcopal University in Port au Prince,” wrote Brad Ayers of Christ Church Cathedral. “All three of these youth have similar goals and desires, and I am honored that they have chosen to share them with me. They all envision a better life for themselves and for their fellow Haitians even though there are many obstacles beyond their control. For me personally, building friendships and creating a network of love, support and prayers is the most meaningful part of mission work, and I am delighted to see this happening firsthand among our partners all over Haiti.”